OSEA’s first female president shares inspiring stories

No collective bargaining. Little to no paid sick leave. Employees working at the complete mercy of their bosses.

That’s no dystopian vision of the future: That was life for Oregon’s classified school employees when Pat Gest was hired at the Hood River School District in the 1960s.

That had all changed by 1996, when Gest retired as OSEA’s director of operations at the end of a storied career that included the distinction of being the union’s first female president.

At age 90, Gest has lived long enough to see changes come and go, and she had words of warning for attendees at the OSEA Leadership Summit:
“What goes around comes around … and these things can be taken away from you,” she said. “That’s something we need to remember.”

As a living witness to some of OSEA’s greatest accomplishments, Gest was able to give attendees inspiring examples of how members have worked together to produce meaningful and positive changes, including how they led the charge to have stop-arms added to every Oregon school bus.

She also shared how the hard work of thousands came down to the vote of just one person — a newly-elected state senator from Canby whom OSEA had supported with a modest $50 campaign contribution. The next year, as the Oregon Legislature considered a paid sick leave bill for school employees, that senator ended up being the deciding vote.

Gest’s remarks to summit attendees came shortly after OSEA General Counsel Mike Tedesco and Executive Director Rick Shidaker had explained the extent of the threat Janus v. AFSCME poses to workers’ rights. Gest told the audience she had complete confidence in today’s generation of OSEA members to overcome this latest challenge.

“This is real scary stuff,” Gest said. “We have a big mountain to climb, (but) I know you can do it.”

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